2000 Toyota MR2 Spyder Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bob Storck Bob Storck Editor
July 10, 2000

SKULL VALLEY, Ariz. — The one thing that can sour the success of Toyota’s MR2 Spyder, a sharp-handling, sporty four-cylinder sportscar like nothing else Toyota has built, is the profit seeking of their dealer body. The car has the looks, performance and fun factor rivaling some exotic cars, yet it’s priced in the Miata range. That is, before the dreaded "additional dealer markup."

The MR2 Spyder, in fact, might be a good test of the quality and ethics of your local dealer. Despite excellent Toyota sales volumes and profit potential, plus heavy suggestions from the corporation, a lot of dealers are hoping customers have short memories and are gouging Spyder buyers.

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2000 Toyota MR2 Spyder

2000 Toyota MR2 Spyder

What separates the Spyder from the small crop of other fun sports cars is the engine —it’s located behind the driver but ahead of the rear wheels. Over the years this mid-engine location has become the favored configuration for racing sports cars, and while it is clumsier for road applications, it offers weight savings and balance benefits.

Manual only

The MR2 Spyder looks much better in person than it does in photographs. We evaluated it in high humidity with top down and sun tan lotion applied, in the thin mountain air with the accompanying chill and even in some coastal downpours. The heater, A/C and top operation and sealing will banish memories of petulant ‘50s sports cars immediately.

Toyota takes advantage of the excellent engine and gearbox from the new Celica GT and places it in a mid-engine rear-drive configuration. While some pundits were afraid it would be underpowered, it really exhibited a nice balance of power and handling.

2000 Toyota MR2 Spyder

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The engine is the 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder with Toyota’s VVT-i (Variable Valve Timing with intelligence). It produces 138 hp at 6400 rpm and 125 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm. Those numbers are in line with that other Japanese two-seater. The Toyota actually produces more torque at a lower rpm than the Miata thanks to the VVT-i technology. It also benefits from an empty weight less than 2200 lb, resulting in great handling and good acceleration.

2000 Toyota MR2 Spyder interior

2000 Toyota MR2 Spyder interior

The MR2 Spyder is only available with a five-speed manual gearbox. That may intimidate some potential buyers, but the transmission is very easy to shift, with precise movement and great clutch pedal feel.

The electric/hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering unit provides excellent road feel and is not overly boosted. Toyota lists the suspension system as MacPherson struts in front and rear, though if truth be told, the rear struts are known as Chapman struts, after famed Lotus designer Colin Chapman’s ingenious design for sports car rear suspensions. Chapman was one of the most brilliant light car builders of all time and Toyota learned his lessons well, with a good compromise benefiting handling and space for the engine components.

Space saving nudists

The MR2 Spyder is a bit unusual in that is uses two different tire sizes front and rear. The fronts are 185/55R-15s, the rears are 205/50R-15s. There is a space saver spare that takes up the bulk of the available stowage space in the front of the car. There are a couple of locking storage binnacles behind the seat — enough storage for a weekend (or a week if you plan on spending it at a nudist camp), but if you can’t pack light, you’d better pass on this car.

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2000 Toyota MR2 Spyder

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Even at the modest list price, standard features include a four-wheel disc anti-lock braking system, air conditioning, three-in-one AM-FM/cassette/CD sound system, power windows and door locks, 15-inch alloy wheels, a retractable wind deflector, and a glass rear window with defroster.

Of course the inevitable comparisons between the MR2 Spyder and the Mazda Miata will come up. Toyota continues the mid-engined MR2 tradition, which differentiates it from the more traditional Miata. Other aspects of the styling are also significantly different than the Miata. Where the Miata has an organic design that can be traced directly back to the British roadsters of the mid ‘60s, the MR2 has a very current, edgy styling to it. This applies to the interior as well.

Only about 6000 MR2 Spyders will be imported per year, and that will also lend a bit of exclusivity to the car. The one "no extra cost" piece that comes with each MR2 Spyder is Toyota’s reputation for quality and reliability.

If you’re in the market for a two-seater, want a fresh and edgy style, can live with the limited storage space and don’t mind paying for exclusivity, the MR2 Spyder should be on your short, light list.

Hugo Becker contributed to this review.

2000 Toyota MR2 Spyder

Base Price:

Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder, 138 hp
Transmission: five-speed manual
Wheelbase: 96.5 in
Length: 153.0 in
Weight: 2200 lb
Fuel economy: 25 city/ 30 hwy

Major standard equipment:
Air conditioning
Power locks and windows
Aluminum sports pedals
AM/FM/CD with four speakers
Tilt steering
Glass rear window with electric defogger

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